This week the eggs that our doves Montezuma and Daria have been sitting on finally hatched. So now there are tiny doves in a nest in our garden. The new parents are very protective of their babies and so we’ve only been able to catch little glimpses when they pop their heads up to feed. We’re looking forward to watching them learn to fly. I wonder if their mum and dad will feel any pangs of sadness to see them go.
In honour of the new arrivals, and also because several people have asked me questions about this recently, for the second week of Booktober, I’m sharing our Top 7 Books to Read to Newborns.
You may have heard that you should start reading to your new baby from the very start. It can feel strange to read to such a tiny little person. If you need some tips for reading to babies, check out this post. Even if you feel a bit mad doing it at first, reading to aloud to your baby can quickly become a special part of each day.
1. Oh! The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss
When my bump was just starting to show when I was pregnant with Pickles, my hairdresser asked me if I had started reading to my belly. I had been very sick and it hadn’t even occurred to me yet. It wasn’t my first twinge of parental guilt; taking medication for my morning sickness had taken care of that. But it was close.
I went straight from the hairdresser to the bookshop and bought Oh! The Places You’ll Go! And I started reading it to the bump. Every single night.
Whenever I got to the part where it says “Kid, you’ll move mountains” I’d get teary and have to recompose before going on. Pregnancy hormones will do that. Imagining your unborn child out in the big wide world moving mountains will do that.
This is what makes this book a good one for new or expecting parents. When you are reading to a newborn, the content is as much for yourself as it is for them. A big part of it is them just hearing your voice. They become familiar with it, and it soothes them.
But babies can also be sensitive to emotion. When you are reading this, your voice will be infused with your love and hopes for them. It is a beautiful bonding experience.
It is also a book that will grow with them. It is often given as a graduation gift because the message is as applicable for a grown child as it is for a newborn.
But it will always be treasured in our home as the book that I first read to my bump.
2. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury
Mem Fox is a master of writing for babies and young children. Her use of simple, but clever, rhyme and repetition in this book make it easy for the reader, and soothing for the listener.
As your baby gets a bit older, this book is also excellent for introducing the concept of differences and similarities. You can use it as a starting point to talk about looking beyond what makes your child different from other people and thinking about what they have in common.
I loved reading this book to both of my kids when they were tiny babies because you can touch their fingers and toes over and again as the story goes on, and then give them three little kisses on the tip of their nose at the end. Not only does this help with building language development, but also with body awareness, which is a key area of development for a newborn. Of course, it is also perfect for nurturing your bond.
Helen Oxenbury’s pictures are just beautiful. They are bright and simple for little eyes, but also contain enough detail to create talking points. When you are reading beyond the text, and using your reading behaviour to engage your little person, the pictures open up a whole world of new stories. This gives you even more reason to return to the book over and over as your child grows.
3. I Love You So by Marianne Richmond
I borrowed this book from the library when Pickles was a few weeks old. I read it to him over and over and then decided that I needed to buy it for him so I could keep on reading it to him.
The book describes how much a parent loves their child; as gigantic as a great lion’s roar, as silly as a puppy dog’s kiss, and as brilliant as each sparkling star. When I was a new mother reading it to my tiny baby, it was as if Marianne Richmond had reached into my brain and pulled out exactly what I was feeling about my little boy and turned it into a sweet little rhyme. I too would love my child forevermore, undeniably. I think most new parents would feel the same way. With its big, bold pictures, it would make a great gift for a baby shower.
I can also imagine giving this book to a grownup child who was about to go off travelling. I imagine myself pulling it out in twenty years time when one of my kids announces they are off on a grand adventure and reading them this bit:
Do you love me just as much
When I’m far from home?
Is your loving still the same
In distant lands I roam?
I love you near or far.
I love you high or low.
My love is there with you
Wherever you may go.
Now I’m getting sad imagining my babies far away from me. Although I’m proud that in my imagined future they are independent and adventurous. Good for you, imagined grown children of the future.
When I initially borrowed the book from the library it was a board book version. The copy I bought was a hardcover and the words and pictures are slightly different. For newborns it really doesn’t matter because you’re just reading to them rather than them being active participants, but I usually prefer board books for babies because they can hold them and chew them with much less damage. The hardcover makes a nice gift though, and if it survives the everything-in-the-mouth phase you too can pull it out when your own imagined grown children of the future go off on adventures.
4. Kissed By The Moon by Alison Lester
This book is simply magical to read to babies. There are big, bright, beautiful pictures and not too many words. The words that are there read as a list of wishes for a new baby. It is a particularly good one for people who are in touch with nature and would want their baby to share in their love of all things outdoors.
It makes an excellent bedtime book, as it’s ending hopes that the baby will: “grow sleepy at sunset, sing to the stars, and drift into dreams. And may you, my baby, be kissed by the moon.” It gets me in the mood for a sleep every time I read it. Or that might just be that I’m always in the mood for a sleep these days and don’t need too much reminding. Either way, it’s a lovely one to read to your little person just before bed.
As your child grows older, this is also a great book for language development. Books like this where the pictures are the dominant feature are perfect for exploring with your older baby or toddler as they begin to learn new words. You could talk about different seasons and weather, different plants and fruits, or different places to visit. On many of the pages there are different creatures and animals to discover, so you could turn the reading into a game.
The more active a participant your child is able to be in the reading process, the more beneficial the reading will be for them, so this is a perfect book to share.
5. You Are My I Love You by Maryann Cusimano Love and Satomi Ichikawa
This is a very cute book for a parent to share with their new baby, or any small child. The pictures show a day in the life of a parent and baby bear. They play inside and out, they eat, they have bath time, and finally the parent tucks the child into bed. The story arc in the pictures makes it a great book to share with a child at the end of the day because you can talk about all of the things that your own child has done throughout the day that the little bear is doing too. Using a book in this way to relate to your child’s own life is an important and useful way to make story time more interactive and enriching. It can also be a helpful part of a bedtime routine as the little bear ends up safe and snug in bed at the end.
In terms of the text itself, the authors use rhyme to juxtapose the role of the parent with the role of the child. The parent is the steady source of constancy and love in the life of their child, and the child adds a new brightness and wonder in the life of their parents.
I am your favourite book;
you are my new lines.
I am your night-light;
you are my starshine.
The use of rhyme and repetition make it an easy one to read over and over to a baby, and parents will no doubt find the words resonating with their own experience. You don’t just read the words, you actually tell your child, “I am your good-night kiss; you are my I love you.” It is a beautiful sentiment to share with your little person.
6. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
The Nutbrown Hares and I did not get off to a good start. I had heard only ever such fabulous things about this book and so I opened the copy of the board book that I had ordered online with much anticipation.
The first thing that happened was the board book gave me a paper cut. It takes a special kind of skill to get a paper cut from a book that is especially designed for little people to play with and chew on safely to their heart’s content. I thought the Nutbrown Hares must have it in for me.
Then, as I began to read, I thought that I actually wouldn’t put it passed that Big Nutbrown Hare to do something malevolent. He seemed trapped in an unhealthy cycle of one-upmanship with his very young son. It was pretty clear there were underlying psychological issues. My husband agreed. He thought, and still thinks, that Big Nutbrown Hare was a real jerk.
I got to the last line though, and realised that that’s what has made this book so wildly popular. “I love you right up to the moon – and back.” Everyone says it now. It’s on cards, t-shirts, and mugs. There is now a tv show based on the book. The more I read it to Pickles, and later to Pords, the more I came round to this enormously sweet core. Big Nutbrown Hare can’t help it if he’s hyper-competitive. He’s probably trying to make up for that one time he lost to the tortoise. In the end he really does love his son more than his son can even begin to imagine – a feeling most parents will relate to. I’ve become such a fan that I even included Big Nutbrown Hare in my list of the Top 7 Fathers from Children’s Books.
This is a great book for new parents to read to their new babies, as they struggle to find ways to describe just how much they really love this incredible new person who has entered their lives. As your child grows, it is a great book to read together. Pickles loves acting it out: stretching out his arms as wide as they can go, reaching them up as high as they can reach, and most especially tumbling upside down with his feet in the air. And now that he can say “I love you thiiiiisssss much” I reckon that I actually do love this book right up to the moon and back.
7. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1902. More than a century later, Peter remains a much loved figure of childhood. My children have been gifted many books, clothes, and toys featuring Peter and his friends. A particularly treasured gift for Pickles from his grandparents when he was a newborn, was the complete set of original tales.
When Pickles was a newborn and we had hours together, just the two of us, I would read him these stories. We read all of them in those precious first newborn months, often while he was happily lying on the change table so I could stand and hold the books at his height.
The stories are charming, the characters endearing, and the language exquisite. They are wonderful because they are short enough to read through in one or two sittings even with a small baby. Plus they are interesting enough for the person doing the reading.
Peter Rabbit and friends are an enduring part of Pickles’ day to day adventures and imaginings. He often now brings me one of the books to read with him.
If you are close to someone who is having a baby and want to get them something special that will remain special to the child as they grow, a collection of books is a beautiful idea.
So, those were my favourites to read to my babies when they were newborn. What were your favourites?